Tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain, visiting the Colosseum, or taking a walk along the Forum. Just some of the activities on the list of the average tourist during a city break to Rome. Lunch with a cardinal at the Dutch ambassador’s residence, a tour of the Vatican library and adding 21 books to that same library will probably not feature on many lists. Nevertheless, Fien Post ticked off all these items during one visit to Rome and Vatican City. “I had to pinch myself several times. Am I really here, a 26-year-old master student? But it was amazing, really special.”

Continuing Erasmus

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Fien in Vatican City. Image credit: Own photo

As an EUR student, how do you find yourself in such locations and in such company? To answer that question, we need to go back to June 2020. In an interview with EM at the time, Jos Exler talked about her mission: to complete her husband’s life’s work. At the turn of this century, Willem Donker had started translating all the letters written by Erasmus. But soon after the publication of part 16, Donker died.

Exler quickly knew what she needed to do. “My son died young, so I know how to manage grief,” she explained last year. “I do that by doing the positive things that person had still wanted to do. That makes you proud and gives you good memories. So, yes, continuing Erasmus seemed a good way to grieve.”

Post witnessed the completion of the series up close. Whilst writing her dissertation for her International Bachelor History at EUR, she met Exler through a mutual friend. The pair started chatting about the series of books, they got on well and Post started to help Exler with promoting the Erasmus series, for example. Since last October, she has been working at Exler’s publishing company four days a week, besides doing her master in Global History.

Just a letter

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When Post started her job, Exler was seeking a new challenge with the Erasmus series. After King Willem-Alexander had been presented with the books in Noordeinde Palace as president of the Stichting Praemium Erasmianum, it was obviously harder to move up the ladder. Exler: “What comes after the King? The Pope, I thought. And Erasmus visited Rome on horseback.” The pair spent a lot of time planning the letter they sent to Rome, and even a bishop checked it. Exler delivered the letter to the Vatican City embassy in The Hague in person and several weeks later, to Post’s surprise, came the response. “They wrote that they would be honoured if we went. Suddenly the world was turned around.”

What made the visit even more special was that the Vatican library is normally closed to tourists and visitors. Post: “It is one of the largest libraries in the world and no one knows exactly what books it contains because the collection is so big. But a book is not included for no reason.” Why were the translated works of Erasmus accepted? Exler doesn’t know. “No idea, perhaps our open-mindedness? We just sent a letter.”

Prosecco

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Image credit: Own photo

Wheeling along the entire series of 21 books in a suitcase, last week the pair set off for Vatican City. There they were welcomed in the book Valhalla by among others the cardinal responsible for the library and the Dutch ambassador for the Holy See. “It was beautiful. Everything in gold, paintings everywhere. Every wall and every ceiling has a meaning. Which makes it very special to watch a case containing our 21 books being wheeled into the library. That was also an emotional moment for Jos. That such a universal institute was interested in something that her husband started.”

After the books had been handed over and given a place in the Vatican, the group went to the ambassador’s apartment for lunch. The moment for Post and Exler to talk about Erasmus and the other subjects they had prepared to prevent any awkward silences. And their tactic worked. “Obviously, the atmosphere was sometimes quite formal. We talked a lot about the life of Erasmus, the library and the Vatican. But we laughed a lot too and drank prosecco. There was a very nice atmosphere. At the end, we heard that the cardinal doesn’t often linger long over lunch. He seemed to enjoy the atmosphere too, so he stayed. Which is really special.”

Back in Rotterdam, Post not only has nice memories of the Vatican adventure, but is also making plans with Exler. Looking for new places to distribute Erasmus’s letters and therefore the philosopher’s ideas. “A trip to Venice, that will be our next destination. And we want to visit the Little Tower.”

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